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Is The Fear of Missing Out Assisting Teenage Drug Abuse?

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Social media sites are extremely popular, especially among today’s youth. While Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat help teens express themselves and stay connected with others, they may also have a negative impact on self-esteem and overall wellbeing. One particular concern is the fear of missing out, or FOMO.

Teens who experience FOMO may feel pressured to experiment with drugs and alcohol to keep up with friends or celebrities they follow on social media. They may also experience lower overall life satisfaction than other teens, making them vulnerable to depression and other mental health concerns. Fortunately, there are steps parents can take to help prevent their children from experiencing FOMO and help them through periods of dissatisfaction and FOMO without turning to substance abuse.

What Is FOMO?Teen struggling with mental health

FOMO is when someone worries they are missing out on exciting events or rewarding activities that they could be enjoying.1 Social media can contribute to this feeling by showing users an endless feed of exotic vacation destinations, celebrities with lavish lifestyles, and acquaintances who present a carefully curated version of their best self.

Social media sites allow you to create a profile and choose how you portray yourself and your life to others. Many people choose to only share photos when they’re out with friends, traveling, or participating in some other significant event. Rarely do people choose to share about difficult times or personal problems.

While the internet can be an outlet to express yourself, it can also create an overwhelming number of opportunities for comparison to others. Upward social comparisons, which occur when a person compares themselves to someone they see as superior or having positive characteristics, have a negative impact on self-esteem and overall wellbeing.2

One study found that the more people use Facebook, the worse they feel moment-to-moment and the lower their overall life satisfaction is.3 People with FOMO feel the need to stay constantly connected with what others are doing, putting them at an increased risk of experiencing these negative consequences.1

How Does It Affect Teens?

Perhaps because of its association with social media, teenagers and adolescents seem to struggle with higher levels of FOMO than the general population, especially young males.1 The low self-esteem associated with social media use, also puts teens at increased risk of abusing drugs and alcohol.4 Related to this, those who struggle with a higher degree of FOMO are more likely to experience depressed mood.1

Teens with FOMO may also turn to drug and alcohol use as a way of not missing out on the activities they see on social media. Perhaps they have friends who post photos from parties where drugs and alcohol are available, or they may follow celebrities who are photographed drinking or using drugs. This can encourage adolescents to engage in similar behaviors.Teen suffering from alcohol abuse

It is clear then that FOMO can have significant impacts on teens, but potential consequences can extend even further. One study identified “distracted learning” and distracted driving as consequences of FOMO, as teens who experienced high levels of FOMO were more likely to check their social media feeds during class or while driving.1 They were also more likely to text and email while driving.1

Teen Substance Use

Use of drugs and alcohol among teens is a major public health concern. In the 2016 Monitoring the Future survey, 7% of 8th graders, 20% of 10th graders, and 33% of 12th graders said they had consumed alcohol within 30 days before the survey.5 The same survey found that by 12th grade, 24.4% of teens had used an illicit drug, and 6% of 12th graders were using marijuana on a daily basis.5Teen picking up joints from dealer

Another study found that those who experience a high degree of FOMO had twice as many incidents of alcohol-related harm within a 3-month period than those who experienced FOMO to a lesser degree.6 Examples of incidents of alcohol-related harm that were used in the study included:6

  • Feeling badly about oneself.
  • Having less energy.
  • Saying something embarrassing.
  • Doing impulsive things that were later regretted.
  • Having a hangover.
  • Not being able to remember large periods of the night.

The anxiety associated with FOMO and substance use among teenagers are clearly linked and can have significant impacts on young people. However, there are ways you can help.

What Can Parents Do?

If you are concerned about your child’s social media use and want to help them avoid feelings of FOMO, there are several steps you can take:

Don’t Panic—Take Preventative Steps

As a parent, you have plenty to worry about. Considering your child’s social media use and how they’re being influenced by the messages they receive from others on the internet can be overwhelming and scary.

Parent and child having a conversationHowever, it is important to remember that not all social media use is bad. In fact, it can help teens communicate with close friends, express themselves in healthy ways, and help them stay connected. Social media can be used to form online study groups where students can learn and prepare for exams together from the comfort of their homes. The quality and quantity of social media messaging are important considerations when determining if your teen is at risk of substance use due to FOMO and related factors.

By practicing effective communication skills, setting healthy limits and boundaries, and offering support, you can help safely guide your child through the world of social media.


  1. Przybylski, A., Murayama, K., DeHaan, C., et. al. (2013). Motivational, Emotional, and Behavioral Correlates of Fear of Missing Out. Computers in Human Behavior, 29, 1841–1848.
  2. Vogel, E., Rose, J., Roberts, L., et. al. (2014). Social Comparison, Social Media, and Self-Esteem. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 3(4), 206–222.
  3. Kross, E., Verduyn, P., Demiralp, E., et. al. (2013). Facebook Use Predicts Declines in Subjective Well-Being in Young Adults. PLOS ONE 8(8).
  4. Khajehdaluee, M., Zavar, A., Alidoust, M., et. al. (2013). The Relation of Self-Esteem and Illegal Drug Usage in High School Students. Iran Red Crescent Medical Journal, 15(11), e7682.
  5. Johnston, L., O’Malley, P., Miech, R., et. al. (2016). Monitoring the Future: National Survey Results on Drug Use: 2016 Overview: Key Findings on Adolescent Drug Use. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan.
  6. Riordan, B., Flett, J., Hunter, J., et. al. (2015). Fear of Missing Out (FoMO): The Relationship Between FoMO, Alcohol Use, and Alcohol-Related Consequences in College Students. Annals of Neuroscience and Psychology, 2(7), 1–7.
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Scot Thomas
Medical Reviewer
Dr. Thomas received his medical degree from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine. During his medical studies, Dr. Thomas saw firsthand the multitude of lives impacted by struggles with substance abuse and addiction, motivating him to seek a clinical psychiatry preceptorship at the San Diego VA Hospital’s Inpatient Alcohol and Drug Treatment Program. In his post-graduate clinical work, Dr. Thomas later applied the tenets he learned to help guide his therapeutic approach with many patients in need of substance treatment. In his current capacity as Senior Medical Editor for American Addiction Centers, Dr. Thomas, works to provide accurate, authoritative information to those seeking help for substance abuse and behavioral health issues.
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